Scott: To-do lists have myriad advantages for students

Scott argues that to-do lists are the best way to stay organized.

Zach Scott

Zach ScottTo the untrained eye, my organizational system might seem to be a bit too excessively reliant on the use of heaps. My room is littered with piles of papers, bills, research materials, more bills and the remnants of my ever-worsening addiction to sugar.

Obviously this life management strategy is wanting in efficiency. I try and keep everything in some sort of chronological order, but that only goes so far. When I’m actively searching for something, this might mean an extra 15 minutes or so being added on to the aggregate time – I just file that away as an unofficial respite.

Where it proves actually problematic is in remembering that the assignment exists in the first place. In those terrifying moments when a professor neglects to post a reminder on Blackboard – because clearly they are at fault in some way, shape or form – and the prompt for the paper has gotten itself wedged in some crevice, I’ve been known to utter a foul word or two.

To combat this problem, I’ve been utilizing the classic to-do list more and more. I first became enamored with the system my freshman year, when a pair of two-page papers due the same week caused me to batten down the mental hatches and to activate hermit mode and feeding myself meant walking two blocks and swiping my TU ID rather than whipping up my own feast.

My love has only grown with the average total items throughout the years.

I used to tape them to the door with comparable conviction to Martin Luther. Lately, I’ve gone more portable since I seem to add three things for every one I get to check off, and also because I think my tape is somewhere in the December 2012 area.

Admittedly, it might be simpler to just invest in a daily planner or start plugging reminders into my phone than to constantly write down “seriously, don’t procrastinate on this paper like last time.” But a planner would most likely just end up in the same place as my last reminder of extortion by Comcast and I can’t risk my phone knowing my plans when it finally becomes sentient.

So instead I’ll stick to my handwritten notes. After all, there are certain idiosyncrasies to the system that make it clearly the best option.

For example, I can load it with things that are easy to cross off to boost confidence. Turn on computer. I am mowing through this. Check email? Check that I checked. Remain sane? Better hold off on that one for a bit.

I also like to use it as a way of including optional reminders like “eat” and “sleep.” Typically, I’ll just tack a question mark on to the end to signify that those will only get done in some sort of fairy land.

To-do lists are also a tremendous way to prioritize things. Just put the stuff that needs to get done toward the top, and the stuff that actually really needs to be done right ahead of it. Bury the stuff that can wait further down. For example, “figure out my life” has occupied the No. 9 spot for the past couple weeks. Any day now I’ll actually get around to it, I swear.

Frankly, the to-do list is elegant in its simplicity, and effective in that it forces you to accept that your homework or time obligations are not just going to disappear. It rewards your hard work by giving you the chance to metaphorically exorcise your academic demons through the crossing-out process and apply structure to the otherwise occasionally unforgiving land of memory.

So until the day personal secretaries are included in the cost of our tuition, I’m going to advocate for the humble to-do list as the preeminent organizational system for any college student.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have one more thing to check off.

Zack Scott can be reached at or on Twitter @ZackScott11.

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